A mixture of veterans and relative newcomers will contest two group 1 features on the Feb. 25 card on the Sha Tin Racecourse turf.
The Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup (G1), at 2,000 meters (about 10 furlongs), drew a field of nine including 2016 Hong Kong Horse of the Year Werther and the enigmatic Pakistan Star.
Werther, trained by John Moore, bids for back-to-back Gold Cup wins—a feat the trainer already has turned twice with Military Attack in 2013 and 2014, and Designs on Rome the following two years. Moore's horses have won nine of the past 12 runnings.
Werther will have to bounce back from a third-place finish in his previous outing, the one-mile Stewards Cup (G1). Awaiting Werther on Sunday will be Time Warp, who won the Longines Hong Kong Cup (G1) over the course and distance in December with Werther finishing second, 2 3/4 lengths back.
Pakistan Star, trained by Tony Cruz, famously stopped and refused to run further for jockey Joao Moreira some 200 meters into the Premier Plate Handicap (G3) at Sha Tin in June of 2017. He subsequently repeated the performance, and since has gone through a rigorous schedule to prove himself to the stewards. Moore said jockey Tommy Berry reported Pakistan Star looked brilliant in his most recent barrier trial.
"Tommy said the way Pakistan Star went past him was impressive. He straight away said we've got the horse to beat on the big day," Moore said. "The horse is fresh and on the trial alone, he's going to be tough to beat."
The co-featured Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup (G1) at 1,400 meters (seven furlongs) also features some of Hong Kong's veteran stars versus some relative newcomers.
The newcomers include Fifty Fifty, Southern Legend, and Beat the Clock. All have been impressive in relatively brief local careers while moving up in class. Fifty Fifty was second and Southern Legend fourth in the Stewards' Cup.
Moore saddles Helene Paragon and Beauty Generation. The former has struggled to regain his 2017 group 1 form, but Beauty Generation has found new life since the trainer dropped him back to sprinting.
Another to consider: Pingwu Spark, the heaviest horse in training in Hong Kong. The 1,330-pounder has the engine to move the machine, winning five of six starts this season and the right to move to the top level.
"When he first came to Hong Kong and we galloped him, I thought that he was an elephant and not a horse," said rider Derek Leung. "And then, when he ran for the first time, he was very good—no longer an elephant!"